PROFILE: Shawn Chillag has been running for 43 years

Chillag in costume in hot dog race.
 (Mar, 2021) Shawn Chillag doesn't say much below about his life's work, but he's an MD who has been teaching at medical schools for many years. He spent a good part of his career at the University of South Carolina, with its well-known exercise super heroes like Russ Pate and Steve Blair. Currently, Chillag, 72, is a dept head at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. He's been running for 43 years, figures he's logged around 110,000 lifetime miles, and appears to have a talent for dressing in costumes. Another fun fact: His son and excellent runner, Ian, works with runner Pete Sagal on NPR's well-known "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" show, and also hosts a podcast with the catchy title "Everything Is Alive" in which he interviews inanimate objects. Chillag sr. reports a great benefit of aging: "
I can’t move quickly enough now to injure anything."

Career-profession: Mostly a learner and teacher. 

When did you start running and why? I read at age 29 that if you don’t get fit by age 30, then it never happens. My brother had challenged me to do a race; we did it and I was hooked. 

How much did you run in your peak years, miles/week, etc? I averaged about 50 miles weekly. This got me

to anything from 1500 miles per year to 3500. 

What were some of your top race performances or achievements? I was on a team that won the Masters TAC 50 mile title. I was first three times (one tie) in the Ridge Runner Marathon in West Virginia, rated as one of top 10 toughest marathons in the US by Runner’s World.

An estimate of total lifetime miles? About 110, or a little more.

How much are you running and cross-training now? I averaged about 50 miles weekly for 2020, but will likely do less in 2021. I hope to get back to doing triathlons after on-and-off participation over 30 years from short to long events. 

Any recent race results? I was never very quick—now sometimes I am last--but also first in my age group. There were 3 guys in my age group for our 2019-2020 Winter Series of 3 races who were all significantly quicker than me. I was surprised to be net winner because none did all 3 races. For me, fifty percent of my successes are just from showing up regularly. 

And now ... he's bacon with eggs

Does it bother you that you are slower now? I would like to be quicker so it took less time, and I could occasionally keep up with someone. I went from running with men to running with women to running behind women to running alone. Getting something done every day, no matter how unimportant, is worthwhile and makes a bad day at work less troublesome. On Jan 25, 2021 was just the worst runners' day----cold-maybe high 30’s, pouring down rain, and windy. I got ready and felt like the cat looking out---interested but reluctant to start out the door. I made it 3 ugly miles, and felt better. 

How have your diet and weight changed through the years, if at all?  No diet--I follow the seefood diet; I see food and I eat it. I can’t eat dead flesh after I saw how it is “made.”  All clothes sizes are the same as always—I can wear stuff that is 40 years old. But my weight is down, reflecting inexorable skeletal muscle loss that occurs with aging. I believe if you keep the furnace turned up high that you can burn any garbage. 

What injuries or other health issues have you faced through the years?  I have had my share of injuries usual to runners but nothing in decades as now I can’t move quickly enough now to injure anything. Got hit by a car once with minor injuries and a few cycling misadventures that were quite painful but nothing serious. 

Do you have a favorite quote or two? "If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough."—Albert Einstein.  "Never ever, ever, ever give-up."—Winston Churchill 

Three tips for hopeful lifetime runners?

1-- Don’t run too much-do other aerobic exercise as well.

2--Don’t fret as you slow down, as none of us are going to get rich doing this.

3--Never give up 

A doctor and ... a rocker.

How does running & fitness improve your life on a daily/weekly basis?
 Get something completed, and I can eat whatever I like.

What are the biggest lessons you have learned from running? Keep plugging away at most everything. I only failed to finish one event after  hundreds of races and probably 50 short to long triathlons. I did not have a DNF until about 6 years ago. At about the 15 mile point in the marathon run of an Ironman Tri, I gave up. It was Kentucky in late summer and hot as Hades. It was hard to continue running while vomiting and retching, and I have a personal concern for heat injury. I had to wait 30 minutes for the sag wagon. The sun had set and it cooled. I felt great by that time, but I knew my family would be worried and I was no longer age group competitive. Nonetheless, I regret not walking the last 11 miles and getting an official finish.

I should note that one of the greatest benefits I mull over frequently is that all 3 children are vigorously aerobically active for decades, mostly running. That could be because of my example or the genetics of obsessive compulsive disorder.